Q&A: Gloria Chin: “Singapore’s people are our best resource”

Author: PM editorial | Date: 24 Feb 2016

The National Environment Agency’s HR director says learning should continue throughout our working lives

Gloria ChinThe National Environment Agency (NEA) in Singapore has an award-winning mature workforce strategy which encourages its staff to keep on learning right up until retirement, which also help them tap into the skills and knowledge of experienced workers. The NEA’s HR director, Gloria Chin, tells People Management why this strategy makes good business sense.
 
Why is it important to have a mature workforce strategy?
In Singapore, our people are our best resource: we have no natural resources. A mature workforce strategy is vital since we are facing low birth rates and a rapidly ageing population.
 
How does it relate to Singapore's lifelong learning objectives?
We sponsor and organise training courses for our mature employees to keep their knowledge and skill-sets up to date, and help them maintain their productivity at work. There is no age limit when it comes to learning opportunities for our employees; around 40 per cent of NEA’s training places are taken up by employees aged over 50.
 
Similarly, there is no age limit for the NEA’s sponsorship scheme, which supports adults in continuing education. We encourage our mature employees to go for training, to help them remain employable in a fast-changing world. The NEA has a structured re-employment policy and we adopted the Public Service Reemployment Guidelines in July 2011 – six months ahead of the new Re-employment. Under our re-employment policy, retiring staff are offered re-employment for three years, up to the age of 65 years.
 
What are the advantages of having a wide range of ages in your workforce?
It is beneficial for both the organisation and the employees. The mature employees are able to coach and mentor the younger ones with their experiences. The younger employees, who tend to be more tech-savvy, can impart some of that knowledge, as well as energise their older colleagues.
 
Do more mature employees work in different ways to younger workers?
Everyone ages differently, and there are certain physical and psychological changes that come with age. We believe that providing flexible work arrangements enable mature employees to continue to work.
 
A good example is staggered work hours, which allows our staff to select their preferred start and end time to work. This is especially popular among staff with school-age children or young grandchildren. Another area that we pay attention to is the physical work environment and the work equipment that our employees use for their work. We also developed customised health and wellness programmes to cater to employees of different age groups, such as setting up health corners with blood pressure monitors and weighing machines to encourage staff to monitor their health status, as well as regularly organising activities where NEA staff can spend time with their children and grandchildren.
 
Is part of your strategy also to prepare people for retirement?
We find that pro-active pre-retirement planning and re-employment are essential for older employees. To prepare them for the physiological changes that come with age, at age 55, NEA employees attend the ‘plan now for retirement and re-employment’ course.
 
We also alert our retiring employees six months before their retirement, and supervisors talk to them about their plans. Three months before retirement, we offer our employees a re-employment contract. The NEA also collaborates with the Council for Third Age (C3A), which aims to create a society where seniors can participate as integral members according to their interests. The Practical Social Gerontology Programme – ‘I’m senior and I’m loving it!’ – which is organised by C3A and made available to NEA staff, enables our mature employees to learn about the impact of ageing.